The title of this chapter is another echo of C. S. Lewis: this time his book of essays God in the Dock. While Lewis’ essays offer a variety of defenses of God and the things of God that modern culture has questioned and placed “in the dock,” this chapter of the Shack features Mack getting to know Jesus as they watch the stars “on the dock.”
The chapter begins with Mack observing Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu winsomely interacting as they prepare a meal. As they eat the three ask Mack about his family and friends, except Missy.
When Mack allows that it seemed like they were hearing all this for the first time, Sarayu explains to him that it is the first time. God “limits” himself, she explains in order to “facilitate and honor” his relationship and Mack and all other humans.
“We have limited ourselves out of respect for you. We are not bringing to mind, as it were, our knowledge of your children. As we are listening to you, it is as if this is the first time we have known about them, and we take great delight in seeing them through your eyes” (105).
Sarayu continues on explaining to Mack that relationships are not about power but rather service – limiting ourselves for the sake of the other. “Humans often do this,” she says, “in touching the infirm and sick, in serving the ones whose minds have left to wander, in relating to the poor, in loving the very old and the very young, or even in caring for the other who has assumed a position of power over them” (106).
Young here portrays servanthood as rooted in and reflecting the divine character. Their image-bearing creatures are to practice servanthood as well in the well-lived life God designed for them.
As Mack continues to observe Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu interacting with each other, he finally realizes that the warmth, attractive intimacy of their relationships is holiness. This kind of holiness is what God has intended for his creation from the beginning and is restoring it to even now. Mack is drawn into that community and joins Jesus and Sarayu in washing and drying the dinner dishes.
On the Dock with Jesus
Jesus then invites Mack to go out and starwatch with him. They find a good viewing spot and lie back on the dock. The spectacular view only briefly distracts Mack from his fascination, somewhat in spite of himself, of the three figures with whom is sharing this weekend.
He notes that Jesus seems more “real” than either Papa or Sarayu. It’s our common humanity, Jesus replies. “I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu. To see me is to see them. The love you sense from me is no different from how they love you. And believe me, Papa and Sarayu are just as real as I am, though, as you have seen, in far different ways” (110).
Is Sarayu the Holy Spirit? Mack asks. She is. Further, Jesus tells Mack, she is Creativity, Action, and the Breathing of Life, indeed his very own Spirit. Her name, in fact, means “Wind” in a one human language which, course, is one of the meanings of both the Hebrew and Greek words for Spirit!
Papa’s name Elousia comes from “El” (Creator) and “ousia” being or truly real, according to Jesus. Thus Papa is the ground of being or the truly real (111). Some have taken this name “ground of being” as a reference to the ideas of Paul Tillich, a famous 20th century philosophical theologian who used this phrase. I don’t find any other traces of Tillich’s thought or language in The Shack. Young’s theological debts are clearly more Reformed and biblical than Tillichian or to philosophical theology.
Again, all this leaves Mack unmoored. He wonders aloud where this all leaves him. The answer Jesus gives is the same one Papa gave him in their conversation in the kitchen. “Right where you were always intended to be. In the very center of our love and purpose” (111).
And that purpose, Jesus says, “from the beginning was to live in you and you in me.” This is Papa’s miracle. Jesus lives moment by moment as a fully human being dependent on Papa and Sarayu. And Sarayu is the one who reunifies the human and divine as they were and were meant to be from the beginning. “The human, formed out of the physical material Creation, can once more be fully indwelt by spiritual life, my life. It requires that a very real dynamic and active union exists” (113).
Mack, as you might imagine, is again overwhelmed by all that is happening to him. The Great Sadness hovers over him again. “Jesus, I feel so lost . . . I know Mack. But it’s not true. I am with you and I am not lost. I’m sorry it feels that way, but hear me clearly. You are not lost” (114).
To be “on the dock” rather than “in the dock” reminds us that, contrary to much popular Christian thought, we are to rest and relax with Jesus, not feel judged and condemned by him. “In the dock” we have to focus on ourselves, our defense before Jesus. “On the dock” suggests friendship, what we might call with Paul being “in Christ.” This is our fundamental reality, this being “in Christ.”
“In Christ” we share his life through his Spirit. We participate in the servanthood of trinitarian life as well as the warm intimate beauty, the holiness, of the giving and receiving love in committed reciprocity with Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu and all others who belong to them.
The creative activity and animating power of Sarayu filling us up and filling us out into the unique people Papa means us to be is the secret here. The secret of creation from the beginning. The reality of creation even now. The future of creation guaranteed by Papa’s passion and promise. This is what is at stake in all this!